updated 02:15 pm EST, Wed December 28, 2005
Intel, Power Mac design
Apple has reportedly for its next-generation Power Mac motherboard to industry giant Intel. Intel's Oregon facilities apparently picked up the project in late-October after Apple asked the chip maker for help to meet deadlines associated with its accelerated transition from PowerPC processors to Intel chips. Intel simultaneously and quietly formed an "Apple Group" consisting of engineers and sales staff, several of whom are rumored to have been assigned to the Power Mac project. Apple is racing to introduce four Intel-based Macs in the first quarter of 2006.
Models expected to debut include iMacs, 15-inch PowerBooks, 13-inch widescreen iBooks, and Mac Minis. Resources at the company's Cupertino-based engineering labs have apparently worn thin, however.
Apple hopes to adhere to its shipping schedule by enlisting the help of Intel to design, and possibly manufacture the Power Mac motherboard, according to AppleInsider.
One likely but unconfirmed rumor is that the new Power Macs will utilize Intel's next-generation desktop processor, code-named Conroe, which is also expected to ship around the same time. Unlike Intel's Pentium 4 processors and its derivatives, Conroe will not use the company's NetBurst architecture but instead will be based on a completely new architecture, according to the report.
Apple's decision to work with Intel Oregon on the Power Mac design may also offer costs benefits. Mark Margevicius, an analyst for Gartner Research, said any effort by Apple to pass its motherboard designs off to Intel would help reduce manufacturing costs of Mac, resulting in lower prices for consumers.
"Intel has done exactly this for the Wintel world several times over, and the benefits from a manufacturing cost have been huge," Margevicius said. The analyst believes pressure has been exerted on Apple's desktop systems from a manufacturing cost perspective, and that the company has finally realized that the real differentiation is at the operating system and software levels. "While cool white boxes are attractive and desirable, they are becoming more and more tough to justify compared to a plain-ol' PC," Margevicius said.
"While I have no insight how much this will save Apple, let's not also forget that Intel also offers marketing dollars (several hundred million, if I'm not mistaken) to [computer manufacturers] who display the 'Intel Inside,' 'Pentium,' and 'Centrino' logos on their hardware," Margevicius noted. "I would expect Apple to do the same."
Other analysts wonder how the traditionally secretive Apple will maintain control of its designs, plans and intellectual property once they are in the hands of Intel.
"The risk with this strategy is that it could make the Power Mac more 'open' than other systems as Intel's specs could be published for others to follow," said one Wall Street analyst who offers coverage on Apple, but asked not to be identified. "It'll be interesting how Apple retains its proprietary architecture--which I assume will be more than software."
The analyst also supported rumors that Apple and Intel may be forming an even closer relationship, and said that there are indications that the two companies may be working together on a custom microprocessor chip-set that will appear only in Apple systems.
Apple is to remain in control of the external industrial design for the new Power Mac models, according to the report.